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Exuberance and dazzle

Alice Busch Theater
07/19/2015 -  & July 25*, 30, August 1, 3, 6, 8, 11, 15, 21, 2015
Leonard Bernstein : Candide
Andrew Stenson (Candide), Kathryn Lewek (Cunégonde), David Garrison (Voltaire, Pangloss), Marietta Simpson (The Old Lady), Kristen Choi (Paquette), Christian Bowers (Maximilian), Cynthia Cook (Vanderdendur, Baroness), Matthew Scollin (Martin, James), Andrew Marks Maughan (Cacambo)
The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Ensemble, David Moody (chorus master), Joseph Colaneri (conductor)
Francesca Zambello (director), James Noone (set designer), Jennifer Moeller (costume designer), Eric Sean Fogel (choreographer), Mark McCullough (lighting designer)

(© Dory Schultz)

This year’s Young Artists roster at Glimmerglass has 52 members, 44 of whom are singers. Twenty-four of them are employed in Candide, including all 19 members of the ensemble. This youth factor is a major reason behind the liveliness of Francesca Zambello’s production.

Whenever I see Candide it is always different. This turns out to be no surprise when one learns its tangled history. This production (to be performed later by the co-producing opera companies of Bordeaux and Toulouse) is the Royal National Theatre Version, staged a few years ago under the guidance of John Caird who joined an illustrious list of people who have contributed to it. The lyrics are credited to no less than six people, including Leonard Bernstein himself. One result is that the mordantly larky situations and reversals tend to go on and on. At the umpteenth reappearance of the supposedly dead Dr. Pangloss one wants to cry «Enough!»

In the title role, Andrew Stenson is the epitome of glowing optimism and then the very voice of downcast disillusion when once again his hopes and plans have been dashed to bits. Kathryn Lewek demonstrates a notably expressive coloratura in her «Glitter and be Gay» showpiece. Marietta Simpson makes a sympathetic, even motherly, Old Lady.

David Garrison is given a lot (and arguably too much) to say as Dr. Pangloss, and he certainly does it with marvelous deftness, every word coming across with clarity in the mercifully unamplified staging.

The unit set accommodates the quick changes necessary to maintain the work’s pace. The El Dorado scene exceeds anything even Liberace would have conceived, although I couldn’t figure out why the sheep are red – shouldn’t they be gold? Cartoonishly historical costuming, with most of the cast in antique underwear, is amusingly apt.

The piratical captain Vanderdendur turns out to be a stylish lady; Young Artist Cynthia Cook carries this off with elan. Kristen Choi is a tough cookie Paquette; it’s a pity she disappears from the action for such a long time. Christian Bowers is directed to perform Maximilian as a one-note vengeance machine. Matthew Scollin seems to revel in Martin’s bitter disillusion.

The festival’s music director Joseph Colaneri proves his versatility with his energetic handling of Bernstein’s rollicking score along side Verdi’s brooding Macbeth.

As a distinct contrast, next season’s musical will be Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.

Michael Johnson



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